• President appoints panel to write new draft constitution
  • Article that barred Ouattara from running may be removed

Ivory Coast will hold a referendum by October to introduce changes to its constitution, including the amendment of a nationality clause that divided the West African nation and was at the heart of years of political strife.

President Alassane Ouattara appointed a 10-member expert panel in charge of making proposals and writing a draft, government spokesman Bruno Kone said by phone late Tuesday.

Ouattara pledged during his re-election campaign last year to remove the nationality clause, which stipulates that presidential candidates must have two Ivory Coast-born parents. The article, included in the constitution after a disputed 2000 referendum months before elections, barred Ouattara, a former prime minister, from standing. Ouattara’s father was said to be from neighboring Burkina Faso, and his attempts to prove his parents’ origin were thrown out by a court.

“The proposed changes will improve stability in the Ivorian political system ahead of the 2020 election,” Eurasia Group, a global political risk consultancy, said in an e-mailed note last week. “Most importantly, the new law will reduce the ethno-regional politics that dominated the early 2000s.”

Migrant Workers

Ivory Coast, the world’s biggest cocoa producer, has been the top destination for West African migrant workers since its independence from France in 1960, according to the International Organization for Migration. As many as five million people out of a 23-million population are estimated to be of Malian, Burkinabe or other origin.

The debate over who’s a real Ivorian and who’s not was at the heart of years of crisis triggered by a failed 2002 coup that split the country between a government-held south and a north controlled by rebels who were ethnically close to Ouattara. Part of a 2007 peace deal was the agreement that Ouattara be allowed to stand in 2010 elections.

Another change to the constitution may be the creation of the post of vice-president, Ouattara said before his re-election last year.

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